Good pubs, Good Beer, Good People

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Nearer, my God to Thee...

It is a supreme irony that the region credited with the invention of beer has a religious restriction on the consumption of it. But these Palestinians are Christians, hence they adhere to Benjamin Franklin's classic dictum about God, us and beer. Read below:

Op-Ed Columnist - A Beer for Palestine -

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dejas Vu all over again in Cranford, NJ

By Kurt Epps—The PubScout

This was my first-ever visit to the Kilkenny House on South Ave. in Cranford. But it wasn't the first time I was in the building that houses it. Before Barry O'Donovan's warm and welcoming publick house, there was a simply great beer bar run by Tony and Danny Bartone called Antone's. The Bartones are now profitably ensconced in The Ark in Pt. Pleasant, but Antone's, with its Wall of 45 Beer Taps, had a great ambience and appeal while they owned it.

Though the ownership and ambience have changed (good Irish pubs have a distinctive atmosphere), the appeal certainly hasn't. The place was packed out on a recent Friday night by 7 PM, and the overflow crowd of the Main Room filled the Back Room—not a "Snug" in the strictest sense of the word, but cozy enough-- to capacity.

Certainly a big reason for that lies in the personality of its effervescent owner, Barry O'Donovan. Barry made his bones in the business in Bay Ridge, and, in the words of PR man John Mooney, "Barry is Old School." Mooney defines that as a hands-on owner on the premises who not only knows his customers by name, he even knows their birthdays. That much was evident as I witnessed O'Donovan personally singing Happy Birthday to a colleen of about 4 at the table with her family. "Barry makes it a point to know families and to make them feel welcome," said Mooney. Indeed, the clientele on this night was extraordinarily diverse, with older families, young families, Generation X-ers, Y-ers, Z-ers and a plethora of Boomers.

O'Donovan, who is delightfully (and Irish-ly) garrulous, doesn't call his style "Old School." He terms it the "Only School." "Treat your customers as you would want to be treated," says Barry. "The most important phrases are "Welcome" and "Thank you for coming." You can catch a snippet of O'Donovan's lilting accent and sparkling eyes in the movie on The PubScout's Page. True to his heritage (he's actually from Kilkenny), O'Donovan is a master storyteller who regaled us with historical tidbits from the Old Sod that were both new and fascinating—like his declaration that the Irish back home don't eat corned beef and cabbage. According to him, they eat ham, but back when the Irish had their Great Migration to America, they couldn't afford ham, so corned beef—which was less expensive—got the nod.

You'll also meet John Mooney, whose major public relations claim to fame was his banning of the singing of "Danny Boy" at Foley's Pub in NYC, a move which yielded extensive TV and media coverage for his client; and House Manager Damien Owens, whose impressive curriculae vitae includes a fifteen-year stint managing the fabled Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center. Owens, with a Dublin twinkle in his eye, asserts "The Kilkenny House manages me; I don't manage it."

Plenty of good beers are on tap at the Kilkenny House, but I chose Dave Hoffman's IPA, made at Climax Brewing right up the road in Roselle Park. Dave also supplied Antone's with his exceptional beers. It was not only outstanding, but it matched perfectly with a dish called Harkin's Curry Chicken. This particular dish was laden with flavor and was not overly spicy; it was in fact on the sweet side—delightfully so. It was absolutely delicious, and it made me glad that I eschewed my usual Shepherd's Pie—though I reserve the right to return and try it.

The missus enjoyed her Crab Cake salad and Arugula salad immensely, almost as much as she savored her Caramel-Apple Tart dessert. A pint of Guinness would have made that a perfect match, but the missus drinks…um… a more…er… mainstream swill beer.

O'Donovan knows the value of offering good food in his pub, and he does so with the help of his indispensable master chef, Carlos Galvez. This guy cooks Irish food so well he should be awarded an honorary O' in front of his last name.

Like Antone's before it, the Kilkenny House is a happening place. I like my Irish pubs noisy and filled with "pub hubbub," and the Kilkenny House does not disappoint. There are even tables outside, where, upon leaving, I passed by a group of mature, but young-looking, colleens who were doing their level best to match the noise level inside. And why? Because The Leprechaun O'Donovan was out there entertaining them. They absolutely loved him, and he returned the favor. And, of course, he knew them all.

O'Donovan loves Cranford too, and, if Friday night was any indication, the feeling is mutual. But you don't have to be from Cranford to go there. Cranfordians just have a headstart on everybody else when it comes to finding an open table.

Go to the Kilkenny House.

You'll be a stranger just once, and a friend ever after.

©Kurt E. Epps 2010 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

McGillin’s Creative Black Tie Beef and Beer Dinner


My good friend Irene Levy Baker sent me this to share with all you beer lovers, and especially you lovers of my favorite Philly pub—McGillin's Old Ale House. Does this mean you have to wear a tux? Nah. Just get "creative" with a black tie. In fact, if you can find the right tie, you might be able to just wear that…


I hope to see you there, as I will be in attendance!


PHILADELPHIA (April 22, 2010) - McGillin's Olde Ale House, Philadelphia's oldest continuously operating tavern, will throw a Creative "Black Tie" Beef & Beer Dinner to celebrate its 150th anniversary, starting at 5 p.m. on Sunday, June 6. The massive gala, which takes place during Philly Beer Week, will be the biggest event McGillin's has ever thrown - with partying outside and on both floors of the tavern, which is located at 1310 Drury Street.  A portion of the proceeds will benefit immigrants to Philadelphia, like Irishman William "Pa" McGillin was before opening his tavern in 1860.


       The 2-story, inside/outside, ticketed gala will feature an 3-hour open bar (with craft beer, wine and cocktails), an opportunity to meet local brewers, a hearty dinner of comfort foods (featuring Carved Beef, an Irish Potato Bar, Salad Station, and a "Flavors of McGillin's" Station with wings, Tacos, Shepherd's Pie, German Sausage Bites & other favorites), entertainment and prizes for the most creative black tie dressers.


      Only 300 tickets are available, at $45 per person. Tickets include a 3-hour open bar, hearty dinner, entertainment, prizes and the opportunity to meet local brewers, beer geeks and even a Ma McGillin look-a-like. To reserve tickets contact Chris Mullins, co-owner of McGillin's, at


      A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, which works to integrate immigrants (like the McGillin family) into the social, economic and cultural fiber of the city.


Cheers till next time!

The PubScout

Bikes, blues and beer in Frenchtown

By Kurt Epps—The PubScout

May 9, 2010

I belong to a motorcycle riders group called CJMRG—kind of a Hell's Angels Very Lite--Heck's Angels, perhaps, and the group had scheduled a "meetup." We were to ride the back roads of Somerset and Hunterdon counties in order to attend an event called "Art of the Bike" in Frenchtown, NJ. It's a great little town, even without a festival, on the Jersey side of the Delaware River opposite the sleepy little PA town of Erwinna. The weather at the scheduled morning start time, however, was less than ideal, so I headed out solo some time after noon.

I will not attempt to engage the reader with the reasons why those of us who love motorcycles love them. You either know it in your soul or you don't. But this ride through the farmlands and quaint, out-of-the-way towns on this sunny, breezy day was one of the reasons. And the festival was another. A bevy of vintage motorcycles was on display, from what must have been the Wright Brothers' bike to the huge, rolling two-wheel living room, technology-laden modern "dressers." And of course, a wide assortment of all kinds of bikes and trikes that clogged Frenchtown's Main Street for the event, many of which were just as fascinating as the ones on display.

As usual, the folks who come to these events are some of the nicest, friendliest folks you could meet, the diametrically opposed version of the stereotypical headbangers and outlaws many associate with motorcycles. The friendly, Frenchtown Constabulary had the event under control, from the detours around the festival to the special parking for bikes. You can check out the photos here.

As is my wont, I seek out special taverns and pubs in such towns, because you can learn a lot about the character of a town by getting a bite and quaffing a pint or two inside the local pub. Frenchtown has a few watering holes, but the one I first walked to—the Frenchtown Inn, adjacent to the festival—politely informed me that food would not be served until 4 PM. A bit on the hungry and thirsty side from my sojourn through the farmlands and up the incredibly pretty Rt. 29 alongside the Delaware, I headed up to Flemington's National Hotel. This well-kept, inviting hotel is obviously an old one, probably on the register of historic places. I jumped up on a barstool and met the friendly bar-gal Kasey, who rattled off the beer list flawlessly. A Harpoon IPA seemed most attractive at the moment and my luncheon was on.

After a second Harpoon IPA, I said my goodbyes to the bar-gal and my seat neighbor, Jane, with whom I had struck up one of those "small-world-isn't-it?" conversations.

I sauntered back to the bike-fest, enjoying an after-meal cigar, the general camaraderie and the remarkable weather. In all, it was what I call a "Bank Day." That's a day that you store in the memory bank and take out in the bleak mid-winter to warm your soul.

And to get you excited for the next riding season.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hoisting a Pint to Moms everywhere!

Most women are capable of bearing children, hence earning the title of "mother."

But not all of them can be a "Mom," with all the duties, responsibilities, respect and love that title commands. It is a sacred position, because the "hand that rocks the cradle rules the world." A very Happy Mother's Day to all you "Moms" in FB land.

And a special one for the Mom who blesses my life and my sons' lives.

God bless you all.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Ledger's (Light) Lager Reading on Jersey Beer...

There are many more stories to be told than are shared in this saga, but give credit where it's's an interesting article to read while you enjoy a good craft beer from any of NJ's craft breweries or brewpubs.


The history of beer in New Jersey | - New Jersey Magazine | Living in New Jersey | Inside Jersey -

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Irish Pub and Italian Food? Fuggeddahboutit!

By Kurt Epps—The PubScout

I can just hear Paulie Walnuts, Sylvio Dante and the big kahuna himself—Tony Soprano—speaking the words in this title.

But that's only because they probably don't know Chef Johnny La Barbera, the dyed-in-the-wool Italian kid who runs the scullery at Hailey's Harp and Pub in Metuchen, NJ. The guy just keeps on impressing with his homemade creations, and since his home was most definitely Calabrese, Napolitano or Siciliano, the love of Italian cooking runs through his blood.

I should have known the night was going to be unusual for two reasons. First, I found a parking place right in front of Hailey's, and second, Owner Chris Flynn was sashaying about the pub in a kilt wearing green sneakers. With those omens, I decided to forego my usual Potato-Leek soup and Shepherd's Pie accompanied by a few Hailey's Ales. With Chris's sporran at my eye-height, I ventured into the culinary unknown and ordered a Baked Eggplant Rollatini dish. On an earlier visit, the missus had raved about the Penne Pasta, so I knew I wasn't getting a pig in a poke.

Although that's what I felt like when I tried to get up after eating Johnny's creation. One word describes this dish: Un-friggin'-believable. Thin slices of finely breaded, flavorful eggplant over a bed of ziti in an incredible homemade sauce were topped by a thick layer of homemade mozzarella. The combination was nothing short of incredible, and the missus—of Italian extraction herself—concurred with gusto.

As usual, there was no room for dessert, but I must confess to a dilemma. Of all the foods I have paired with beer, Italian food, especially with red sauce, is very difficult to match. Quite honestly, my favorite beverage with that food is a good Bardolino, Chianti or Barbaresco. So what to do in an irish pub with a favorite beer (made by brewmeister Dave Hoffman)?

Fuggeddahboutit. Have a Hailey's Ale when you sit down at the table. Finish it before the eggplant comes. Eat the baked eggplant. Have another Hailey's for dessert.

Ya see, T? It ain't so hard. And I'm pretty sure Johnny's sauce would stack up well against Carmella's.

And don't whack Chris for the kilt. He's a man's man. He's good people.

©Kurt E. Epps 2010 All rights reserved.